I’ve adored Conor Robin Madigan since the day I met him, both of us first year students at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It wasn’t just the snake tattoo entwining his bicep, the rambling play about windup toys in an attic room he workshopped, or his deceptive composure that intrigued me. Even in an MFA program in which another student stripped naked in class and circled the room before leaping a chair to flee down the echoing hall, Conor stood out. Now, just a few years after graduation, his novel Cut Up hits the stands—or whatever it is novels hit. The disquieting story of a young couple restoring a falling down farmhouse, the book cultivates a sense of low-lying alarm. Let’s review: tattooed, creative, vaguely menacing. Yep, he’s totally my type. No wonder Conor Robin Madigan is June’s Chicago Crush!
Hometown: Evanston, Illinois
Profession: Guitar repairman
Hobbies: 16mm film, collecting books, typewriters, writing music, gardening, pruning trees at the end of winter
Our Town When did you realize writing was your destiny?
Conor Robin Madigan Early on, my mother took me to the Gettysburg battlefield. We got lost in the orchards and I suffered heat stroke. We walked to a part of the battlefield where a bull was kept in a large field. [He] sat under a big tree and drank muddy water. I made the decision that grunting at the thing was very smart and soon the bull was up and crooning, quite distressed. The farmer came out with a stick and ran [us] away. Back home in Evanston, I had a dream about a boy and his cat. They lived on the battlefield with ghosts and the boy was to stay with his farmer uncle and aunt for the summer. He'd go out at night with the cat and walk with the ghosts. I wrote it on my father's PC in the basement. My oldest brother read it and told me I needed to learn how to spell. I wanted to prove him wrong.
OT Which writers have influenced your concept of the world?
CRM Cervantes was read to me by my mother. [It’s] the only writing that has truly, deeply made a difference in the way I see the world. Henry Green, Muriel Spark, Leonard Michaels, William Trevor; these are the writers who have influenced how I write.
OT What inspired Cut Up?”
CRM One night, a girlfriend wanted me to tell her a story. I was so flattered, I took the task very seriously. The windows were open and the El rattled a few or ten blocks away. Something romantic and quiet came to me. It began with Sheri and Liam walking on a dusty road to market to trade in all of the dead husband's things for fruit.
OT Who is your dream reader?
CRM A teenage man from the Midwest, maybe thirteen, picking up his first novel and his first girlfriend or boyfriend.
OT Do you listen to music when you write?
CRM I listen to Liszt, Mozart, Arvo Part, Wayne Shorter, Dusty Springfield, The Zombies, and in the last five years I've been listening to the music my brother and I write. We wrote a song a week individually, for a while, and I'd listen to the songs as I drafted and wrote.
OT The MFA in Creative Writing is an increasingly pursued degree. Is it necessary?
CRM The MFA is an important experience, [offering] writers the space and time to become highly critical of their writing, but more, to read and read. You need to read the right work. 100:1 [is] a good ratio, book to written piece. MFA programs attached to English departments are a different game. It's risky for a writer to have anything to do with English professors. I kept falling in love with them in college.
OT Where do you find inspiration?
CRM I don't write from inspiration. I write like a turbine spins. I find inspiration to read. And that inspiration is coffee. Maybe I like to print out what I write. In a way that inspires me to edit, which makes me write more.
OT Describe your perfect day.
CRM 10 a.m.: wake to coffee and morning duties. 11:50 a.m.: trip to bookman's alley or the lake. 2 p.m.: lunch. 4 p.m.: nap. 5 p.m.: read. 8 p.m.: gym. 9 p.m.: drinking, dinner, tea. Writing until 2 a.m. No contact with others.
OT Relationship Deal breaker?
CRM I have many.
OT Can you elaborate?
- death penalty
- neat freaks
- 'kills time'
- rule followers
- role players
- constantly tries to impress
- inability to forget my idiot moves
- competitive with me
- follows social rules, social order
- negative at all times except the morning
- inability to be alone
- desires something in me to change
- thinks Ophelia shouldn't have died
- likes any of the top 100 songs
- doesn't read much
- reads competitively
- likes to go to bars
- needs me to like friends
- needs me to understand or forgive their parents
- wants me to speak another language
- adores South America
- adores other cultures because they're too guilty to find out what their own might be
- won't live with family for extended periods of time
- unskilled at being multiple-faced
- no sense of taste
- expresses false concern...ever
- uses phones as doorbells
- closed minded liberals
- closed minded conservatives in liberal outfits
- inability to allow me to eat what I eat
- thinks 'meeting parents' is an important social event rather than a healthy and friendly time
- dream of money
- [says] 'that's funny,' instead of laughing
- religiously guided
- fear of animals (the kinds that won't kill you)
- thinks I can grow out of my disorders
- believes shrinks are temporary by design
- believes shrinks are the answer
- doesn't believe in science
- doesn't believe in the science of sleep
- thinks I should wake up just as early
- thinks men and women have a similar time clock
- doesn't know how to bluntly say, "I need help."
- categorizes me as male
- categorizes me at all
- wants to find out what they want to do instead of doing it
- doesn't consider how short and brutal life can be for someone dedicated to something
- wishes I would think of how short life is and travel
- thinks traveling solves identity issues
- finds it repulsive
- finds it consistently awesome
- language repetition issues
- cyclical storytelling over months and years
- ability to accept futility quickly, especially in tasks
- physically too fit
- down about being physically unfit
- regret to the point of revisiting singular regrets
- self ordained obsessive compulsive
- ratty understanding of truth
- wants 'babies' instead of children who will grow up to be, more often than not, troublesome adults
- compares me to anyone
- won't allow someone their specialty
- can't encourage someone like themselves
OT Wow. Ok. Who was your first crush?
CRM One of my aunts.
OT Why are you crushworthy?
CRM I live with my parents.
OT Any questions for me?
CRM When I see you seeing me through a café window and the lens of a camera should I say hello, or just ignore us both?
A freelance writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum, when not writing, supports herself as a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago's Story Studio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She’s kind of looking forward to it actually. IMPORTANT: the official Our Town site doesn't support comments. Join in the conversation by followingOur Town on Facebook and Sarah on Twitter: @SarahTerez